Self-Massage and Myofascial Release: Introduction and Video Guide!
Hello New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers alike! You are probably well aware that foam rolling, trigger point balls, thera-canes, trigger point guns and other gadgets have exploded in popularity over the past decade, and with good reason. Self-massage, also known as self-myofascial release or trigger point release, can alleviate muscle pain, increase flexibility, reduce injury risk and enhance athletic performance.
Mark Greenfield is a Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Personal Trainer and Active Release Techniques practitioner based in New York City. He works with a wide variety of clients in his Midtown Manhattan office to help individuals prevent and recover from many types of orthopedic and sports injuries.
Whether you live in a small New York City apartment or in a spacious home somewhere else, doing self-massage is easy, safe and simple. On Your Mark NYC offers 1-on-1 lessons in self-myofascial release to help individuals learn how to safely and effectively incorporate a variety of techniques into your sports training, injury prevention and exercise recovery program.
Just like with stretching and exercise, there are specific guidelines, helpful tricks and proper techniques that can be used in order to maximize effectiveness and ensure safety. This article and the videos below will help get you started if this is new for you and ensure you're getting the most out of it, even if you already do it regularly.
Guidelines for Safety and Effectiveness
1. Hold for 30-60 seconds on each trigger point. When using more intense pressure, hold for less time within this range.
2. Stay Still. While rolling back and forth over a trigger point and doing cross fiber friction might feel therapeutic, often times it actually prevents the muscles from relaxing. So while it may be very tempting to roll back and forth over each spot, try to limit it.
3. Breathe. Taking regular, normal breaths or slow, deep breathes when working on particularly sore spots will help your muscles and entire body relax.
4. Know When to Stop. If you've done foam rolling or trigger point ball release before, then you probably know how tempting it can be to just keep going. But that can backfire, sometimes leading to soreness, muscle spasm and even swelling.
5. Don't Massage Swollen Muscles and Joints. Use some common sense here. If a muscle or joint is swollen, leave it alone. Use ice and other anti-inflammatory measures until it comes down.
6. If it doesn't feel right, then stop. If you're not sure whether the sensations are positive or negative, or if you feel like something is off, then listen to your body. There are ligaments, nerves, joint cartilage, bone, vertebrae and organs that often do not like deep, sustained pressure or any pressure. So if you're not sure, then error on the side of caution.
7. Be Consistent. As with stretching, strength training and healthy eating, it is important to be consistent. The benefits of self-myofascial release can be cumulative, not just instantaneous. While there are benefits to rolling out tight and sore muscles once in a while or in the moment, the chances are that you'll get more out of it over time.
8. Know which muscles and tissue to focus on. Focus on the muscles and connective tissue that truly need to be released. As with stretching, self-myofascial release should primarily be done on shortened, fibrotic muscles. It's not usually necessary or good to release muscles that are already under-active, over-lengthened and weak.
9. Know when to self-myofascial release. While it is okay and often times helpful to release trigger points and break up adhesions prior to exercise, be careful not to overdue it. As with stretching, this is especially if the exercises you'll be doing require those muscles to work hard.
Benefits of Self-Myofascial Release
There are many benefits to incorporating regular self-massage techniques into your health and fitness routine. There is scientific evidence to support many of the claims made by product manufacturers, websites and educational associations. While many of the benefits and science described below are based on research done about massage therapy, the same principles apply when doing it yourself, assuming you do it correctly and safely.
Alleviate Muscle Pain
Muscle pain from intense exercise, poor posture, old injuries, muscle strains, inflexibility, scar tissue and overuse are all too common. As with massage therapy and trigger point release done by a practitioner, doing it yourself can help alleviate muscle soreness. It does this in several ways.
One of them is by breaking up muscle adhesions and scar tissue that can result in a lack of blood flow to muscle cells and that prevents muscle fibers from elongating and contracting properly. In addition, pressure to muscle cells stimulates a neurological response that increases muscle relaxation and impedes pain signals from traveling to the muscles.
Muscle fibers can get stuck together or adhered to one another. This can be the result of repetitive overuse, intense workouts and a lack of stretching. When this happens, a muscle literally cannot stretch normally which limits range of motion. A lack of range of motion, or decreased flexibility, puts muscles at a mechanical disadvantage when they are required to lengthen.
Therefore, using self-massage tools to help loosen up the muscle fibers can enable them to slide in relation to each other and enable adjacent muscles to slide relative to one another as well. The melting away of trigger points through self-release further enhances pliability of muscles so that they can stretch and contract optimally.
Reduce Injury Risk
Releasing trigger points through self-myofascial techniques is a great way to reduce your risk of injuries from sports, exercise, heavy lifting at home and while playing with your kids. Getting your muscles and joints to move, stretch, withstand external forces and produce movements properly limits their vulnerability to strain, tearing and spasm.
Breaking up stubborn trigger points, chronic scar tissue, adhesions and muscle spasms allows the body to perform movements more freely and with more confidence. This limits the wear and tear that having poor flexibility and tight muscles can contribute to. It's the same concept as with stretching and getting treatments such as deep tissue massage, Active Release Techniques and other injury prevention therapies. Taking care of yourself makes you stronger and less likely to hurt yourself.
Enhance Athletic Performance
In line with everything discussed thus far and below, it's no surprise that doing regular self-myofascial release can help you stay on the court, in your running shoes and at the gym performing at the levels that you want and expect from yourself.
When you have less pain, proper flexibility and feel more relaxed, you'll be more likely to avoid injury, be consistent with your training and recover faster following a tough workout or intense event.
Reduce Stress and Relax
It is no secret that getting a massage, whether it is a blissful few hours at a spa or a deep tissue massage at a sports massage clinic for nagging shoulder pain, can help people relax. There have been many qualitative and quantitative large studies conducted to prove this. So the same applies to self-massage techniques. Many of the same biochemical processes produced when receiving a massage occur when doing it yourself.
Specifically, pressure to sore muscles creates a both a local and systemic nervous system response that helps both the muscles and the entire body relax. The release of hormones and the stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system can help lower blood pressure and heart rate as well as send signals to the affected muscles that helps them reduce tone and block pain receptors.
In summary, self-massage techniques are a great way to help you stay active and reduce pain. Done correctly and in combination with proper stretching and exercises, it can be a powerful tool. Not everyone has the time, money or desire to work with a sports injury therapist. Self-massage and self-myofasial release are great alternatives.
On Your Mark Sports Massage and Fitness provides 1-on-1 instructional sessions to help you maximize the benefits of self-myofascial release. Our injury recovery specialists also routinely include these techniques as part of home exercises programs that we provide to our clients.